Prosecution releases results of Sewol probe
The prosecution yesterday disclosed the results of its months-long investigation into the Sewol ferry disaster that included damning information about the Korean Coast Guard, in charge of the search and rescue mission, as well as the probable causes behind the ship’s sinking.
The incident, the country’s worst maritime disaster, claimed the lives of more than 300 people after the vessel capsized on April 16 in waters off the southwest coast.
Authorities yesterday indicted the captain of the Coast Guard boat that arrived at the accident scene for professional negligence resulting in deaths for failing to properly evacuate passengers in the initial stages.
The prosecution also indicted three other Coast Guard officials, including Deputy Chief Choi Sang-hwan, for abuse of power.
The three are believed to have maintained a questionably close relationship with Undine Marine Industries, a private salvage company, and given it preference during search and rescue operations at the disaster site.
Jo Eun-seok, who heads the criminal division at the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office, accused the Coast Guard of favoring the company.
“Coast Guard officials also mobilized Undine Marine Industries’ Libero barge [to the Sewol accident scene], which is illegal because the vessel did not go through proper safety inspections,” Jo said.
Another barge, the 2,200-ton Hyundai Boryeong, was dispatched to the scene about 30 hours before the 1,175-ton Libero, though the larger barge was not used in the search and rescue mission until the Libero came to the accident site.
Only the 300-ton Geumho barge was used, wasting opportunities to employ additional personnel and equipment as well as rescue more passengers.
Undine Marine Industries reportedly acquired the Libero for 2.1 billion won ($1.97 million) and charged 1.5 billion won for its use over 87 days.
The prosecution added yesterday that it had investigated 388 people directly and indirectly related to the accident and arrested 154 of them.
Additionally, authorities yesterday concluded that ferry’s sinking was caused by overloading and poor renovation work done on the vessel to increase its cargo capacity. It capsized due to poor steering and the cargo being driven toward one side, after which the boat could not restore its rightful balance, the prosecution said.
The prosecution has so far indicted the captain and 14 crew members aboard the Sewol and taken legal action against 26 others, including officials from the Chonghaejin Marine Company, which operated the ferry, and those responsible for affixing the cargo.
BY KIM BONG-MOON [firstname.lastname@example.org]